Kage Baker had – of course! – a lot of respect for proverbs and folk sayings.
As a student of history and a fan of small, strange facts, she found the pithy sayings of the past of particular value. If their advice was out of date or otherwise no longer practical, they could always be taken as anthropology. Or amusement.
“Three lights on a match is bad luck” is no longer of great help to the soldier in the field, for instance. It initially referred to lighting the punks for match locks and muskets, which are obsolete. Modern soldiers, if they smoke at all, are probably puffing on an e-cig or a joint; they aren’t using matches. And their opponents are not sighting in on their little match flares in order to find them. They’re using night-vision, or laser sights, or waiting for the vapes to blow up and do their work for them.
There are dozen of sayings that predict death: A bat that flies around your house three times, a dropped umbrella, a white moth, a broken mirror, stepping on cracks, six crows, your shadow by moonlight, a bird flying in the window, rats fleeing your house … it all means you’re gonna DIE. Why? Probably because when these proverbs were in current use, you were likely to die soon anyway – someone was, in any event. So, yeah, it all came true. Eventually.
Knocking on wood, throwing spilled salt over one’s shoulder, blessing a sneeze – none of those does diddly-squat for bad luck, but once they were legitimate ways of invoking the good will of a god. And maybe they still are. You want to take the chance, hmmm? You feeling lucky?
People remember these things. They remember them because the little rites and rituals are easy to perform, might ward of evil, and do no harm. They’re like neutral mutations in the genetics of society – you don’t get hurt by them, so they hang around. Someday you may really need to have scraped up that salt or need to suddenly use that light-sensitive pituitary gland as a spare eyeball, and behold! You’re ready for the opportunity.
One of Kage’s favourite sayings was “May you live in interesting times.” She thought that was about the most inventively cold-blooded and nasty curse going. Some people take it for a blessing, but … it’s not meant that way. Which becomes more apparent when you learn the next line of it: “And may you attract the attention of the mighty.” Now that, Dear Readers, that can be really bad luck …
I know that I am not important. I enjoy a certain notoriety and respect in my small circle of friends and relations, and that is nice – but in the larger case and the real world, I am not a vital cog. I’m more of a loose screw … and, to tell you the truth, Dear Readers, I have never wanted to live in interesting times.
It’s been quite enough for me to instead take an interest in what was happening in my time; even if it’s not been all that fascinating in and of itself. Historical recreation, cryptids, and funny knitting stitches have provided me with sufficiently interesting living conditions for the past 63 years. Most of the time, in fact, I have been breathless with the sheer volume of interesting stuff that happens to me.
But … but. I have been known to bestir myself from time to time for public projects. I’ve helped save some historic buildings, some endangered animals, a few dozen acres of rain forest. I helped save a good-sized swathe of the Santa Monica Mountains from developers; it’s now a park. No one ever noticed me, because I was just one more anonymous nut chaining herself to an oak tree, and that was fine: it worked. The idea was to save the oak tree, and it’s still alive and thriving.
But now I have to make some noise again. We’ve done the “peaceful exchange of power” thing – as a favour to President Obama, mostly – and now I think it’s time for a little noise. I can’t walk far or stand long: so I’ve joined tomorrow’s Women’s March* virtually. I am publishing my name and contact information on a public site to let Washington know: this is who I am and where I stand, even if I’m leaning on a cane. My Pink Pussy hat is marching tomorrow in Los Angeles with a friend. I did it this way because I want the gummint to know I’m here, I’m not pleased, I am making noise and I will be heard.
If I have to live in interesting times, I will attract the attention of the mighty. It’s not safe. It’s not healthy. It’s not even very smart, probably. But it’s the only honourable way to get through these times.